What’s More Important Than Amount of Sleep?

I’m sure you’ve been told that you must get 8 hours of sleep each night. While that’s good advice, equally important is when you sleep. Or rather, how regular your sleep schedule is.

A study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that students with regular sleep habits performed better in class and had higher GPAs than those with irregular sleep patterns.

Researchers in the study measured melatonin levels in the students’ bodies to track their circadian rhythm, or body clock. They discovered that students with irregular sleep schedules were behind based on their body clocks. At 9 a.m., an irregular sleeper’s body clock would function as if it were 6 a.m. (how do you function at 6 a.m.?).

If you need some help getting into a regular sleep schedule, here are some things you can do.

Control Your Sleep Schedule

The basic idea of maintaining a regular sleep schedule is to control it. Instead of letting yourself watch another episode of your latest binge show, pay attention to the time. Give yourself 8 hours before you need to get up and set a bedtime. With practice, keeping to a bedtime becomes easier.

In the morning, try not to press the snooze button. When you wake up is just as important to your sleep schedule as when you go to bed. Think about it like keeping time at work. Waking up is like clocking out at the end of the workday. You don’t stay late if you can avoid it, right?

This applies to weekends as well, when you might not have any plans getting you out of bed before 8 a.m. But routine is good for your body, so you’ll likely find you have more energy if you wake up at work day times instead of staying up late and sleeping in.

Prepare for Sleep

Melatonin naturally prepares your body for sleep. In sync with the daylight hours, melatonin starts producing when the sun goes down, approximately 2 hours before you go to bed. Experts often suggest disconnecting from screens a couple hours before you plan on sleeping. Your smartphone or television screens actually stimulate your brain, countering the effects of melatonin. So if you find you’re not tired when you should be starting to sleep, try removing yourself from screens when you’re trying to wind down for the day.

A hot bath will also help your body prepare for sleep. Body temperature fluctuates as melatonin levels do — your body is warm during the day and cold during the night. By taking a hot bath, you can essentially boost the cooldown that helps lead your body to sleep.

Also, watch what you eat and drink. Experts suggest refraining from caffeine after noon and allowing about 3 hours between any food and bedtime. That means no late night desserts or snacks.

Craft a Sleeping Environment

You know best what helps you sleep at night in terms of environment. For example, you probably have a hard time getting to sleep when it’s hot out. Or you might have a preference for bedding (sheet or no sheet? Open-air or need the weight of covers?).

Find out what works for you and stick to it. If you need some help, most people need a cool, quiet and dark environment.

Regular Daytime Activities

It may seem unrelated, but maintaining regularity in your daytime activities helps regulate your sleep schedule, according to a study in 2014. Depending on your work or school schedule, it may be difficult to make every day consistent, but something as simple as leaving the house at the same time every morning will help, no matter where you go or how long you’re gone.

Manage Stress Levels

Stress levels affect so many aspects of our lives; I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been kept awake by worry. There are many ways to reduce stress, so find what works for you and stick with it. Here are some techniques to get started:

  • Meditate. Breathing techniques or mindfulness are both great to calm your mind.
  • Journal. Write down what bothers you. Whether you keep it or toss it, getting those thoughts on paper will free your mind to transition to sleep.
  • Note. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about something you don’t want to forget, keep a notebook on your nightstand so you can write it down. It’ll free you from worrying about not remembering in the morning so you can get back to sleep.

Whatever it takes to get into a regular sleep schedule, you’ll feel better during the day. If you still have trouble getting to sleep after trying these, or if you have serious insomnia, talk to your doctor. Sleep is very important so make sure you strive to get the best sleep you can.

The Best Breakfast Foods to Last All Morning

Whether you eat breakfast every day or just a couple times each week, what you eat for breakfast can impact the rest of your day.

Eating a filling but relatively small meal (no more than 700 calories in a 2000 calorie diet) will set you up to get through the morning without pushing you too far into your daily calorie limit.

Breakfast Basics

To cover your bases, experts suggest combining the following four food groups for a healthy breakfast:

  • Protein — provides energy and keeps you feeling full
  • Whole grains — breaks down slower than refined grains, so you won’t get hungry as soon
  • Fruits and vegetables — gives you essential nutrients and keeps you full
  • Dairy — provides essential nutrients, like calcium for bone health

What to Avoid

When shopping for breakfast foods, pay attention to sugar content. Many breakfast foods are loaded with sugar and fats — like children’s cereal, flavored oatmeal, pancake mix and flavored yogurts.

For more control over sugar, choose plain options over flavored ones and add healthy sugar, like fruits and berries. Honey is good too, but try to keep it to a minimum.

Avoid protein that’s high in fat content, like pork sausage and bacon. And limit the portion of protein. The American Heart Association warns that eating too much protein may increase cholesterol levels in your body, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

When buying dairy, opt for low- or non-fat options. The more fat there is in milk, for example, the more calories there are. When working with a daily limit for calorie intake, any chance to limit calories is a win.

What to Eat

Here are some meal ideas to get you started.

  • Plain greek yogurt with fruit
  • Whole wheat English muffin (or toast) with peanut butter and a banana on the side
  • Omelet with veggies
  • Small bowl of whole grain cereal (low sugar) and hard boiled eggs on the side
  • Oatmeal with almonds, berries, and a splash of milk.
  • Scrambled eggs — try any of the following toppings:
    • Tomatoes
    • Brussel sprouts
    • 1 tablespoon of cheese
    • Lean meat (like chicken sausage)
    • Greens, like spinach or green onions
    • Peppers
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Black beans

This list is by no means comprehensive. If you have other types of breakfast foods you love, go ahead and eat them, but make sure to check nutrition labels. Again, keep sugar and fat low, and look for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein.

If you have any favorite recipes, share them in the comments section!

Do You Sit Too Much? You May Have the Sitting Disease

Are you getting enough exercise? The Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) prescribe 150 minutes of physical activity each week to be healthy. According to the guidelines, physical activity helps prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

But studies are showing that sitting for long periods of time will counteract any activity you get, even if it meets the national recommendations. In fact, the sitting disease, while not officially recognized as a diagnosable disease, has gained traction in the scientific community.

According to the American Heart Association, sedentary behavior is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, comparable to the risk from smoking. A study by American Cancer Society in 2015 showed that women who sit more than 6 hours per day were 10 percent more likely to get cancer than women who sit less than 3 hours per day.

The results often don’t change when physical activity is factored in — those who get the recommended amount of activity but lead otherwise sedentary lifestyles are just as susceptible as those who get less exercise.

Don’t let that discourage you from pushing yourself to meet the recommended activity goals. There are things you can do to counter the sitting disease that will benefit you whether or not you regularly exercise.

The top advice to counter the effects of sitting is to sit less. Simple, right? If you’re thinking it’s easier said than done, you’re right. I can attest to that. But getting as little as two minutes of light activity each hour can make a significant difference. 

Try the following tricks to get out of your chair as often as possible. Aim to get up on your feet every 30–60 minutes. Set a timer if you need to.

  • March in place for a minute (or five minutes!).
  • Walk a lap around the office.
  • Walk to a bathroom farther away; bonus points if it’s on another floor.
  • Stand up while you’re on the phone.
  • Stand up and walk on your breaks.
  • Walk over to a coworker instead of emailing.
  • Work at a standing desk if your work allows it.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Suggest standing or walking meetings.

Those are all great techniques to get moving while at work at the office. When you’re home you can do many of the same things. You can also stand up and stretch during commercial breaks and take your dog for an extra walk each day.

What do you think? Will you be breaking up your day with more activity? If you have other advice, share it in the comments section.

Staying Healthy at Your Local Fair

It’s state and county fair season! Fairs have many attractions for any kind of person, from food to rides to shopping. Whether you go every year or are planning your first trip, you’re sure to find some enjoyment.

For people in Ohio and Indiana, fairs are taking on another association: swine flu. Recent outbreaks of swine flu in Ohio and Indiana bring to the stage concerns about health at county fairs. The Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Health are reminding Ohioans to be careful when checking out the livestock at local fairs. That’s good advice for people in every state.

If you’re concerned about staying flu-free and wonder what else you can do to stay healthy at the fair, you might want to check out these other tips for staying healthy at your local fair.

Wash your hands.

Pig and goats at fair petting zoo

Can you resist petting these guys?

Washing your hands is the easiest way to prevent sickness and germs from spreading. Have you ever passed a cold back and forth with a loved one? Now imagine how many people go to your local fair and touch door handles, railings, merchandise and each other? The possibility of inheriting germs are endless.

But by keeping your hands clean you are much less likely to get sick. With the swine flu going around in Indiana, it’s especially important to wash your hands before and after seeing the livestock.

Water and soap are the most effective for cleaning your hands, especially if they are visibly dirty. But it’s a good idea to have hand sanitizer as a backup in case there isn’t a handwashing station near.

Drink water.

Water is on nearly every list of ways to stay healthy, but it’s worth repeating. Especially at your local fair, which is likely outside in the summer sun, drinking water is essential to staying hydrated.

If you don’t drink enough water, you may start to feel light-headed or nauseous, which are warning signs of heat exhaustion. Hang out in a shady spot for a while and sip on water until you feel better.

Apply sunscreen.

Being out in the sun has consequences other than dehydration. Sun burns are not only uncomfortable but dangerous. Too much unprotected sun exposure can lead to skin cancer — a hefty price to pay for a day at the fair.

Remember to reapply every couple hours and get broad spectrum sunscreen.

Eat healthily.

Fair foods are notoriously deep fried, fatty or sugary. Funnel cake, caramel apples, cotton candy — most of our favorite fair foods are unhealthy. But you only have them once a year, right? That may be so, but they can affect your fair experience.

Alcohol will dehydrate you and, if you drink too much, affect your judgment and memory.

Sugary foods may give you a burst of energy, but you’ll soon crash and have little energy for the remaining festivities.

Greasy foods may give you indigestion or a bloated feeling, both sure to affect your enjoyment of the day.

Here are some tips to eating healthy at your local fair:

  • Eat a healthy, well-rounded meal before you leave your house. If you know the food options will not be healthy, eating ahead of time will minimize the amount of unhealthy food you’ll eat there.
  • Choose high-protein options. Protein makes you feel full longer, so if you choose something with protein, like a turkey leg, instead of something sugary, you won’t be going back for more soon.
  • Split a meal. If you have a favorite treat you only get at the fair, try to split it with a friend. You’ll still indulge in your favorite, but you won’t overindulge.

Also be wary about where you eat. Eating too close to livestock can put you at risk for consuming airborne germs from the animal pens. You wouldn’t eat in your bathroom, would you?

Know about available resources.

Just as you would scope out restroom locations, it’s a good idea to look for first aid stations and drinking fountains before you need them. If you do start experiencing heat illness symptoms, or if you just aren’t feeling well, you won’t want to wander more than you have to to find some help.

Local fairs can be great places to meet up with friends and family. Whatever reason you have to go to your local fair, try these techniques to stay safe and healthy so you don’t regret your trip later.

Six Health Benefits to Taking Hot Baths

In our fast-paced culture, the practice of bathing may fall by the wayside. Showers are the main technique to get clean, but hygiene isn’t the only reason to take a bath.

Those who take baths regularly know that they are relaxing. They reduce stress levels and can help relieve anxiety. Baths are a part of Japanese culture. Japanese people take baths every couple days, often in mineral springs or spa settings. Japanese bath-goers experience improved metabolism and decreased stress levels. Anxiety medication can’t  compete with mineral baths.

Here are some additional benefits that may convince others to adopt a bathing habit.

Skin relief

Adding olive or coconut oil to bath water will relieve itchy or flakey skin, common symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis. The oil acts as a moisturizer and the water sloughs off flaky skin. Doctors recommend soaking for 10 to 15 minutes only and then applying moisturizer after.

Sleep aid

Taking a hot bath before going to bed will help you get to sleep. A drop in body temperature spurs melatonin production, signaling the start of the sleep process. A hot bath with raise the body’s temperature, which will drop steadily as you head to bed, starting the sleep process early.

Sinus relief

The steam from a hot bath can clear nasal passageways to provide relief from annoying congestion. Whether you suffer from allergies or just a cold, taking a hot bath will clear your sinuses so you can breathe easy again.

Reduces swelling

Adding salt to baths has been proven to decrease pain related to swelling. This is helpful for conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia or muscular low back issues. Regular old table salt will do the trick.

Breathe easy

Have you ever noticed that it’s a little more difficult to breathe when you’re in water? The extra pressure water puts on your chest restricts your lungs. But when submerged regularly, you can strengthen your lungs by taking deep breaths, exercising the muscles around them.

Increases blood flow

Warm water helps your blood flow more easily by expanding your veins and arteries. Blood flow is essential for your body to function. Specifically, it increases cell growth and organ function. Heart health depends on blood flow. The easier the blood flows, the less the heart has to work.

These are just a few of the benefits of taking a bath. If you’re like me, you never made a habit of taking baths. But there are plenty of reasons to give it a try.

What do you think? If you’re a regular bather, do you experience these benefits?

BBQ, Burgers and Beer — Eating Healthy at Summer Gatherings

Summer is BBQ season and that can be problematic for anyone trying to keep up a healthy diet. It’s hard to establish a healthy diet and stick with it for long, but in the height of summer BBQs, it can feel even harder.

BBQs mean socializing with friends, family and neighbors. They mean burgers, hotdogs and potato salad. Sweet cocktails, beer and mixed drinks. Cold desserts. How much of that is healthy?

If you’ve been successfully maintaining a healthy diet, a BBQ invitation might bring fear of falling off the diet train. But it doesn’t have to. With the right tricks, and a proactive attitude, you can join in on the summer fun without breaking your healthy habits.

While it may be too late to be healthy for July 4th, BBQ season is in full swing and you might need help staying healthy through the rest. Try doing these things at your next BBQ.

Prepare

Going to a party hungry can be dangerous, like going grocery shopping while hungry. Considering humans are social beings and eat more in social settings (it’s been proven!) than they do alone, going to a BBQ hungry will inevitably lead to overeating.

Instead, eat before you leave. You’ll have more control over what you eat and you’ll leave less room for the unhealthy foods at the BBQ.

Or, to boost the healthy content of the food at the BBQ, offer to bring something and make it the way you want it. For example, substitute greek yogurt for mayo in side dishes like potato and macaroni salads. Add vegetables to the classic pasta salad. Offer to grill up some chicken alongside the common burgers and hotdogs.

Watch What You Eat

Have you noticed that no matter what size plate you have, you tend to fill it up? Larger plates can be deceptive because the extra space around a healthy portion makes people feel like they don’t have enough food. The solution to this is to grab a smaller plate. And try not to fill it more than once.

If you don’t have that option at a BBQ, try to limit your portions. You can make sure there’s space between each type of food or limit yourself to half a plate. Alternately, scope out the food options before grabbing anything. Keep track of the must-tries and steer clear of anything that didn’t make the cut.

Watch What You Drink

It might be especially tempting to grab a refreshing alcoholic beverage on a hot day, but many of them are high in sugar and carbs. Pass up the margarita mix. Instead, mix your own drinks. Make a margarita with high quality tequila, lime juice and a small amount of simple syrup. If you’re a beer person, go for something light. Wine is another light option.

Another good idea for both diet and hydration is to drink water with your alcoholic drink. For every sip of alcohol, take one of water. You’ll reduce the sugar and carbs and stay hydrated.

Don’t Be Shy

Some of the best nutrition advice is about moderation. This is especially true with desserts. BBQ desserts can be hard to decline, but as long as you don’t overindulge, you don’t have to. Try a bite of each, or simply limit yourself to a serving of your favorite. It’s okay to be the person cutting each piece in half or breaking off corners. If you feel bad leaving pieces, find someone to share with.

More Than Food

In the end, BBQs are about getting together with people and having a good time. So do that! Participate in the lawn games. Go for a walk to catch up with some friends. Play with the neighbor’s kids. Move your body.

BBQs are primarily social functions, but your health is also important. If you do end up eating more than you’d like, or if you couldn’t pass up the indulgent dishes, it’s okay. In a worst case scenario, claim that day as a cheat day. And enjoy it!